|Crystal Renay, son & Ne-Yo|
By Brenda Alexander
In a time where mom’s are becoming moguls from sharing their children’s hair routine to their thousands of mommy subscribers on Youtube and Instagram, I so thought we were beyond the era of coined terms like “Hawaiian silky,” “good,” and anything else in that word family to describe our kid’s hair in its natural state. That was until Neyo’s wife Crystal Renay Smith shared this photo begging her 363k followers for tips on taming her son’s mane as a last resort because according to her, he wasn’t “blessed with mommy’s Hawaiian silky” texture. My oh my how far she’s set our Wakandan pride back.
The problem is not that she asks for product suggestions for her son’s hair but rather that instead of asking for help on upkeep and moisturizing techniques as she includes in the post, throwing in the contrast of textures and referring to his lack of “blessing” with silky hair as her’s is the condemnation of it all. This is larger than a celebrity’s ignorance of proper terminology. It’s an issue of self-love and acceptance of our blackness in all forms that something as minuscule as defining your child’s hair as less than manageable because of it’s kinky state serves as a key ingredient in our little one’s esteem.
When I was younger, there weren’t many products suitable for little girls to cultivate their natural tresses. I grew up in a time where the only options were processing my hair, whether that be my mom putting a Just For Me kiddie perm in my hair every 6-8 weeks to keep my ponytails “straight” or her sending me to the salon every two weeks where I’d be subjected to the burns of a good ole fashioned hot comb and a press and curl. There were protective styles such as braids but because extension braids normally lasted longer, I started rocking thick micro braids as early as 6. Unfortunately, just as there weren’t many helpful non-chemical products, there wasn’t a safer extension, such as the crotchet option we have now, so even braids caused damage if they were too tight. The lengths my mom and other parents of my friends went through to keep our hair looking as straight and presentable as possible is baffling to me now when I see how free kids are running with their beautiful afros. Afterall, no one wanted to send their little boy or girl to school with “nappy” hair. Long before Tia Mowry was both praised and ridiculed online for letting her son Cree rock his natural fro and even style his hair in man-buns, braids and mohawks, little boys were forced to get haircuts as early as 1 years old because having hair was deemed “girly” by society. As a result, I along with many others grew up with my self-esteem being closely attached to how my hair looked.
I yearned for hair that was straight, I even recall coming home with my hair a mess everyday because I tried to mimic my Asian friend’s hair in first grade. As I grew older and natural hair started to boom a little, I was still forced to get relaxers because I was told I didn’t have “that type of hair.” I’m sure my family didn’t mean to affect my self esteem, they just didn’t have the tools or resources to figure out how to work with my hair as is. School didn’t help, girls were teased for their “buckshots” while others were praised for their “long and pretty” hair. It got so bad that in between perms, I would try and straighten my hair and comb it myself. I hated my mom washing my hair because she could never get it as straight as a hairstylist. I refused to go out with my hair undone and when I did, I felt extremely insecure.
My close cousin had a similar experience, saying:
“My mom’s side of the family had a looser curl pattern than mine as my maternal grandmother was Caucasian. Their hair texture was more ideal and seemed so much easier and appeared prettier. I grew up thinking I had “bad hair.” I tried everything to change it because I longed to fit in. When I was older I refused to wear my natural hair, go without a relaxer and I was obsessed with straight barbie doll-like weaves. I never even wore braids again until I was in my 30’s. It all stemmed from what I experienced as a girl.”
This is why I took offense to Crystal Renay’s analogy. While I don’t think her comments were malicious, they were hurtful and regressive. Even my cousin said reading her “silky hair” comment took her back to her maternal side of the family comparing her hair texture to her “dad’s side of the family,” making her feel like the little girl who thought it was a bad thing to have kinkier hair. That’s where the damage lies. We have to be mindful of what we speak to, about and around our children as we mold their minds and future dialogue.
Do you find Crystal Renay’s comments regressive?